Kennett Square author publishes book about her remarkable mother
By Steven Hoffman
In the second chapter of her book “Love & Loyalty,” Josephine B. Pasquarello writes about the day that her father didn’t come home.
“Wednesday, May 11, 1955 was the day my family went into a tailspin, a rapid, out-of-control descent with a devastating emotional impact that would be felt for many years to come,” she writes. “Our lives as we knew them would be forever changed.”
Josephine, the tenth of the twelve children, was six years old on that fateful day in May when her father, Mike, did not return home to his wife, Romania, and their family. Despite her young age at the time, Josephine can recall in vivid detail what it was like that evening when her father was not at his spot at the head of the dinner table.
Romania Pasquarello knew that there was something wrong when her husband missed dinner that evening, but she had twelve children to care for so she took care of dinner as if nothing was wrong. She put the children to bed. There was still no sign of her husband. The next day, she walked to Mike Pasquarello’s produce store at 1829 North Seventh Street in South Philadelphia. The door was locked. She knocked. She called out her husband’s name. When Mike Pasquarello finally answered the door, he wouldn’t let his wife in. He pleaded with her to go home and take care of their children. She could see that he was somehow injured and bleeding. He was also holding a gun.
In one of the most dramatic parts of the book, Josephine recounts how her mother called the police to help her get into the produce store. Even after the police arrived, Mike refused to cooperate. He even fired a shot at the ceiling. He demanded that he be left alone. Eventually, the police got Mike’s brother, Nick, to help, and they were able to grab him and put him on the floor. Mike was ready to pass out from blood loss. They were finally able to load him into an ambulance and race him to the hospital.
The news was grave. The doctors told Nick and Romania that Mike had been stabbed and had also consumed rat poison.
“Mom could not believe what she had just heard and fell to the floor,” Josephine writes. “Her husband was going to die in the next few days, and they couldn’t help him. There wasn’t anything they could do but wait for the end.”
Mike’s death, which came five days later, had a tremendous impact on the family. It would be a very long time before Josephine learned the truth about his death. But while the secrets that the family guarded play a part in “Love & Loyalty,” the book is really about how Romania Pasquarello rose up with unimaginable strength and courage to care for the twelve children.
Josephine recounts growing up in 1950s and 1960s Philadelphia in colorful detail. She describes many of the people in her neighborhood with clarity and passion, but it is Romania Pasquarello who is the focal point of the family saga. The writer recalls how the matriarch of the family raised the twelve children with compassion, wisdom, and tireless energy, handling everything that was put in front of her.
Josephine was the tenth of the family’s twelve children, so as one of the youngest family members at the time of her father’s death, details about the incident were mostly kept from her. She explained that, for years, it was believed that Mike had taken his own life, although the word “suicide” was not mentioned.
It would be more than 50 years before she learned the truth.
In 2009, Josephine's uncle, George, passed away at the age of 92. At the funeral, George’s oldest son, Ralph, sat next to her.
As they talked, Ralph explained that he would often visit his uncle Mike’s produce store as a child. He asked if Josephine wanted to hear some old stories about her father. She said that she did, of course. After sharing several stories, Ralph turned more serious. Josephine writes about the moment toward the end of “Love & Loyalty.”
“[Ralph] grabbed my arm and looked deep into my eyes. 'Josephine,' he said, 'you know that your dad was killed by the mob. Your dad didn’t commit suicide. He would never have killed himself. He wouldn’t leave Aunt Ro and all you kids. Your dad was a good man and he loved his family.'”
Josephine was stunned by the revelation about her father’s death, even after all those years.
“After 54 years, our family secret was finally out in the open,” she writes. “It had taken me over half a century to find out the truth.”
She details how her father, an honest man, had become a victim of the powerful mob in Philadelphia. Some local mobsters wanted Mike to take the fall for a crime that he wasn’t involved in, and he refused. He was killed as a result. But the heart of the book is about how her mother overcame the tragedy to raise twelve children on her own.
“I remember one thing in particular that my mother always said to us: ‘Keep your head held high and don’t be ashamed of who you are,’ Josephine writes. “And that’s what we always tried to do as we struggled through life without our father. We found out what it was like to be on the other side of the mob, and the law [but]…they never took away the allegiance my father and mother had for the family, and looking back over the years, it seems to me that my mother’s love and loyalty triumphed.”
The book can be purchased on the Dorrance Publishing website and on www.amazon.com. She also has a book signing scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 16 at 10 a.m. at the Kennett Library.
About the author
Josephine B. Pasquarello is the tenth child of an immigrant Italian woman who is the subject of the book, “Love & Loyalty.” Josephine wrote the book―in cursive―over a four-year period.
A resident of Kennett Square for the last 15 years, she is a wife, mother and grandmother. She graduated from West Philly Catholic Girls’ High School in 1967. During her lifetime, she worked in the restaurant business for twenty-five years. Later, she owned a house cleaning service and for thirteen years owned and operated a successful store in the Philadelphia area. She retired in 2000, and devoted more time to her family. Her hobbies include traveling, writing, working out, and cooking the way she learned from her mother.